Passport Processing Paying Off

March 18, 2007
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BELMONT — Although the income won’t replace what the township has lost in revenue sharing from the state, it certainly is a lot more than it could have picked up from a series of car washes and bake sales.

Over the past four years, Plainfield Charter Township has earned more than $130,000 by processing passports. Last year was the township’s best year for passport revenue when it took in more than $46,000 and nearly doubled the 2005 total.

But this year could easily top last year’s record total.

Just two months into 2007, the township was only a few passports short of reaching $24,000. If that pace continues for the next 10 months, the township would collect $144,000 from its passport business and exceed what it grossed in its first four years.

Plainfield has already processed 664 passports this year, just under half the number the township administered for all 12 months last year.

Of course, the federal government’s new mandate that requires passports for air travel to Canada, Mexico and a few vacation hot spots like Bermuda hasn’t hurt Plainfield’s business. And when ground travel to Canada and Mexico requires a passport, likely next year, even more people could be heading to the township’s office.

For Plainfield, the timing couldn’t be better. While every governmental unit in the state is struggling to find more revenue, the township has developed a good income source.

But maybe the best thing about Plainfield’s passport business is its low start-up cost and non-existent overhead.

Township Clerk Susan Morrow said Plainfield invested $700 more than four years ago to send her and her staff to Chicago for a one-day seminar given by the Department of State on how to process passports. Soon after that, they were in business.

And since the State Department supplies the applications and the applicants supply everything else, expenditures are almost nil for the township. The biggest regular expense is likely the cost of mailing the completed forms to the State Department.

So how did the passport idea come about?

Morrow said it came from a conference that she and her staff attended where one of the offerings was a class on how to become a passport agency.

“We knew nothing about it at all. But people from the State Department in Chicago appealed to the township clerks to become passport agencies because of the lack of desire on the part of some of the post offices to continue to do that. So they were looking for a new source of agents and agencies,” she said.

Morrow learned how the township could become an agency at the conference, went to Chicago for the training, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“The clerk’s office here was not a revenue generator and we saw an opportunity for us to contribute to the revenue of the township without having to add any staff. Yet at the same time, one of the exciting things for the township is an immediate cash flow,” she said.

“Every person that applies for a passport anywhere in this entire country pays the agency $30.”

At first, that may not sound like a whopping amount. When it’s multiplied by a thousand, though, it becomes a tidy sum and almost pure profit. About the only additional expense the township has is when it hires a part-time photographer to take photos when it holds what it calls “passport fairs” away from the office. The township processed 71 passport applications and took 66 photos at its four-hour fair in February.

To become a one-stop shop for customers, Plainfield began taking passport photos in November 2005. The township charges $8 for the photo, which is the same price that Meijer and Walgreen’s charge but $7 less than what someone would pay at a post office. Last year, the revenue from photos topped $6,000.

“Our income from the state has been reduced very much — in excess of $400,000 to $500,000 in the last three or four years, just about the same time we started doing passports. We’re certainly not making up for that, don’t get me wrong,” said Morrow.

“But there was very little investment to get this going. From the standpoint of the agency, we don’t have any expense at all other than we mail a packet every day.”

Morrow said her department, which keeps the township’s records, doesn’t even have to keep any passport records, as the State Department does that. Her only paperwork is logging the applications she sends to Chicago for processing.

“We have not been inundated with huge volumes of paperwork. Our logs are just in one little notebook.”

Plainfield accepts passport applications from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday in the clerk’s office at 6161 Belmont NE in Belmont, just north of Grand Rapids. Applicants don’t have to be township, county or state residents. Anyone can apply there, even someone who is just passing through.

“I remember one young man from New York City who was home visiting his parents and he just said, ‘I think I’ll run over and get my passport done,’” said Morrow.

“If somebody comes in with their form all filled out and if it’s just a matter of checking it and taking a picture, the average time that we spend on a passport is about eight minutes.” 

Passport Payoffs

Plainfield Charter Township earned more than $130,000 during the first four years it processed passports, and had its best year last year when it almost doubled the revenue take from 2005.

Here is a year-by-year look at the township’s passport business.


























Note: Total passport revenue for 2006 includes $6,352 from taking photographs.

Source: Plainfield Charter Township, Clerk’s Office, March 2007

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